With all the speculation about how much longer big-box retailers can hang on in this increasingly online-based retail economy, it’s no surprise that Best Buy would make attempts at copying other top retailers in almost all aspects of their sales strategies. A few things Best Buy is trying out are to use smaller product displays that focus on a few products and allowing items to be purchased in more locations rather than forcing customers to wait in lines at the register.
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The Future of 'Big Box' Retailers
I started at Best Buy as a seasonal digital camera sales rep in 2002 and ended as an agent of the Geek Squad in 2010, just shy of eight full years. Among the many, many things I learned about retail, technology, people, customers and business, the one question I constantly asked myself (and still do to this day), is how much longer can outfits like these survive?
In our morning meetings, we often heard the latest reports about what our competitors were doing and how we were supposed to respond to changes in the market and I remember a specific statement that was said about Walmart. It was along the lines of ‘People are using [Best Buy] as a means to get informed and then taking this knowledge to Walmart to get the better price.’ What struck me more about this than its truth was that I was also doing that very thing! The difference for me, however was that I was spending my money online. What made me think about all this was I happened across an article about the future of Best Buy and in it, Don Reisinger said:
“For people, like me, getting more comfortable with online purchasing, I simply don’t know what would stop me from using Best Buy as a research center. I can go to the store, check out a new camcorder or surround sound system and then decide if it’s something I want. If it is, I’ll ask the manager if they can match Amazon’s deeply discounted price. If he can, I’ll buy it at Best Buy. If not, I’ll go home and order it online.”
The answer to the implied question is the only thing that would stop someone from doing that would be a price match. I doubt even great customer service can save them in the end.
So what makes people shop in a store rather than shopping online for the convenience and cost-savings? The short answer might be trust. I think we still have a large group of people (mostly in the older generations) that don’t have a full grasp of the concept of the Internet and people are naturally fearful of what they don’t understand. You mix this in with the horror stories of online identity theft, items that ship broken or bad eBay experiences and you get a recipe for disaster.
In my opinion, it’s actually safer/more economical/better to shop online! There…I said it! Let me explain why I believe this:
- Credit Cards: Shopping online requires the use of electronic payments and therefore you’re not lugging around a wad of cash or an antiquated checkbook into a store that can target you for theft (or loss).
- Fraud protection: Check with your credit card company…I can promise you that if you use your credit card online and there is even the slightest hint of fraud, you will get your money back.
- Price: No or low overhead (stores, sales people, etc.) equals lower prices.
- Co2 footprint: Reduce your carbon emissions by not driving to the store and sitting in traffic.
- Convenience: Patience is a virtue and even though you have to wait for your items to arrive, the added bonus of being able to use your iPhone to make a purchase while you’re waiting for your kids to get out of school is much better.
- Availability: Sometimes online shops do go out of stock, but not nearly as often as a regular store.
- Selection: Try walking into Best Buy and choosing from over 13,000,000 songs like you can on iTunes.
Above all, the deciding factor for me is simply price. It’s very hard to find a product in a store that can’t be found online for less. Plus, online, you sometimes have the option of buying overstock models, discontinued items, lightly used items and refurbished products–all of which can knock off lots of dollars. In my case, I worked at Best Buy and they give all their employees an employee discount. In case you were wondering how much, it’s cost plus 5%. This equates to whatever the cost Best Buy paid for the item and an additional 5%. Anyone who knows retail knows that low margin items such as computers, anything made by Apple, music cds and older DVDs don’t give you much of a discount where as higher margin items like printer and video cables, accessories and some software can range dramatically.
Interestingly enough, I found that my discount actually cost more than some items online! In other cases, if something was on sale (like a new DVD release), I would end up spending more if I processed the transaction with my employee number!!
Anyway, having a brick and mortar store is nice because if offers these advantages:
- Physical product you can touch and play with or test out.
- Live human beings you can talk to and ask questions or hear opinions.
- A real shopping cart you can stand on and fly down the aisles.
- Instant delivery of product.
If all those matter to you, maybe shopping at an actual store is your style or maybe you just like to use a store to do research and then take your money elsewhere to get a better price like the rest of us! At any rate, I’m not proposing that Best Buy simply shut down and disappear, but I do think there’s something to be said about the convenience and selection of stores like Amazon.com.
In fact, their new slogan is, “Earth’s largest selection.”
Leaving Best Buy
I remember about two years ago I started thinking about the day I would leave Best Buy. I used to wonder how it would feel and what I might say when the time came. I ran through a series of different ways it would go down and not one of them was a simple as the reality of it.
Little did I know on October 27th, 2002 that I would be at Best Buy for so long. I had gotten the job out of necessity during a time when I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do in life. I had just left a job working at a grocery store and after starting at Best Buy, I quickly realized how much better it was. More importantly, I saw potential growth in my field of interest: computers.
I started as a seasonal sales rep for digital cameras. I was already impressive on my third day, as stated by one of my friends. I remember it like it was yesterday. He says to me after just teaching me how to do something, “You better slow down, man; you’re gonna make me look bad!” I’ve always had strong work ethics and I feel that if someone is paying me to do something, I better do it right and quick. It was already paying off.
I will admit that in the beginning, I didn’t know what my future held here. My main concern was getting through the Christmas season of 2002. Afterward, I got the news that I was staying onboard as a part time employee and I kept on selling those digital cameras! I was still young enough at this point to be caught up in the party scene and hanging out with my co-workers produced many friends in my contacts list. We also had a lot of great times.
Over the years, I’ve held various positions that eventually led me to becoming a Special Agent within the Geek Squad. I felt that I had found my calling and I was headed in the right direction with my “career” although I never intended on staying at Best Buy to satisfy it.
During this time, I was working as a field agent in a company car doing IT work for various clients. It was considered by some a dream job and even though it started out as one, it eventually took it’s toll. Retail politics, good people leaving the company, unruly clients and strange management hierarchies all helped to create a less-than-desirable workplace. It became less and less about the client and more and more about the money. Granted, a business needs profit to stay alive, but I don’t think they should go so far as to risk losing good customers as a result. Anyway, that’s another story!
I ended up working back in the store in February of 2009 due to some of this drama and it was then that I realized I was done. I needed to get out of there because I felt I wasn’t going to be able to reclaim my old position and not only that, but I didn’t think that even if I did that I would be helping my future much.
The job search began, but with the economy heading downward, it was glaringly obvious that this move wasn’t going to happen overnight. I eventually found that job and got it.
I am out of Best Buy come January 29th and it has been a long run! I was so happy to be able to walk in there and drop the news that I found a new job. I felt so liberated. I feel a little sad about leaving because its a comfort zone and I’ll be missing quite a few people, but I have so many memories to take with me.
This is a new chapter in my life and I can’t wait to see what happens next! The two best things that happened to me at Best Buy was the experience and friends I gained and the meeting my girlfriend.